As noted in the introduction, President Spencer W. Kimball encouraged students and scholars to become bilingual in the languages of scholarship and faith. Because the study of Christology sometimes involves terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers, this glossary provides brief definitions and summaries that we hope will help readers navigate some of the essays in this volume.
adoptionist Christology (or adoptionism): In ancient Israel, the anointed kings were seen as being adopted or proclaimed sons of YHWH, or the God of Israel, upon their coronation (see Psalm 2:7). By analogy, some early Christians saw the Father’s proclamation that Jesus was his Son at the baptism (Mark 1:11) as a form of adoptionism, though this view was later declared heretical by the proto-Orthodox. See Ebionites; proto-Orthodox.
Anointed One (Hebrew, māšîaḥ; Greek, christos): In the Hebrew Bible kings, priests, and on occasion prophets were anointed as a sign of divine appointment and empowerment. In the intertestamental period, different expectations developed regarding a coming Messiah who would redeem Israel and restore it to glory, and early Christians saw Jesus as the realization of their Messianic hopes. For Latter-day Saints, the premortal Jesus Christ was chosen and appointed in the premortal council as the Savior of humanity and the central figure in the Father’s plan of salvation for his children.
atonement or redemption Christology (also known as “lamb Christology” by some scholars): Building upon the psalms featuring a suffering servant (e.g., Psalm 22) and the servant song prophecies of Isaiah (e.g., Isaiah 42:1–9; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; and 52:13–53:12), this Christology saw the work of God’s chosen one as one who would be despised and rejected as part of his bearing his people’s griefs, sorrows, and transgressions. Jesus’s passion predictions (Mark 8:31–33; 9:30–32; 10:32–34; and parallels) reveal his focus on this part of his mission. See sacrificial Christology.
Colossians Christ hymn: An early poem or liturgical fragment preserved in Colossians 1:15–20 that stresses Jesus Christ’s role in creation and in the reconciliation, or redemption, of that creation.
conception Christology: Jesus became God’s Son when Mary became pregnant with him following the Annunciation. Examples of passages that teach this include Romans 1:3; Matthew 1:20–25; and Luke 1:26–38. For Latter-day Saints, the Firstborn of the Father became the Only Begotten when he was divinely conceived and miraculously born.
condescension: Literally meaning “coming down to be with” us, condescension refers to both God (Heavenly Father) becoming the Father of the mortal Jesus Christ and especially the premortal Christ setting aside his glory, power, and knowledge to be born as the Babe of Bethlehem. The pivotal text for Latter-day Saints is 1 Nephi 11:12–33, which also applies it to his humble, healing ministry and his willing, sacrificial death. See kenosis.
divine identity Christology: Equating or identifying Jesus with YHWH, or Jehovah, the God of Israel. Examples include Jesus as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15–17; Hebrews 1:2) or as the Lord and Guide of his people (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10:1–4). Latter-day Saints regularly see the premortal Jesus as the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Lord most frequently referred to in the Book of Mormon. See also preexistence Christology; YHWH.
docetic Christology (or docetism): This term is derived from the Greek dokeō, meaning “to seem” or “to appear,” and it describes the belief that Jesus Christ only seemed or appeared to be human. Docetists affirm that Christ is fully divine but not human. They may have appealed to Romans 8:3 or Philippians 2:7 to support the idea that Christ appeared only in the “likeness” of human beings. Certain passages in the Gospel of John appear to specifically refute this belief (see John 1:14; 19:34–35), and it is denounced in the Epistles of John (see 1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 1:7) and was declared heretical by later proto-Orthodox Christians.
Ebionites: A group of Jewish-Christians first identified by this title in the second century AD. The name Ebionite most likely comes from the Hebrew, ’ebyon, meaning “poor”—as in, “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Although they accepted Jesus as the Messiah, they continued to observe much of the law of Moses and believed that Jesus was the natural son of Mary and Joseph. Jesus was then adopted by God at baptism on account of his righteousness. See adoptionism; possessionist/
exaltation Christology: Closely associated with resurrection and second coming Christologies, this approach sees Jesus as becoming more fully divine with his resurrection and ascension into heaven when he becomes the reigning Lord. An important example is the Philippians Christ hymn, the second stanza of which speaks of God exalting Christ Jesus, at whose name every tongue will confess and every knee bow (Philippians 2:9–11).
high Christology: An approach to the person and work of Jesus that begins with his implicit godhood and attributes the highest degree of divinity to him, such as preexistence and divine identity Christologies. High Christology thus stresses Jesus’s divinity over his humanity. Latter-day Saints particularly resonate with this Christology because of the high Christology of the Book of Mormon and the revealed insights of Joseph Smith and subsequent leaders of the Church.
incarnation Christology (or Logos Christology): The belief that the divine Jehovah, the preexistent Logos or Word of God, was clothed in flesh (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7). Such a christology emphasizes both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon strongly testifies of the incarnation, for instance, in the powerful testimony of Benjamin in Mosiah 3:5–8. See also condescension; divine identity Christology; Wisdom Christology.
judgment Christology: Focuses on the future role of the exalted Jesus, to whom the Father has entrusted the responsibility to judge the world (see John 5:22–29).
kenosis (from Greek, kenō, “to empty”): As suggested in the Philippians Christ hymn, the premortal Christ, who was in the form of God, “emptied himself” (KJV, “made himself of no reputation”), setting aside his divinity at the incarnation. See also condescension.
kenotic (also “veiling”) Christology: Approaching the nature of Jesus by seeing his divinity as being set aside through kenosis or kept in abeyance, or set aside, during mortality. For Latter-day Saints, the idea that Jesus Christ’s premortal glory, power, and knowledge was restored “grace for grace” is taught by passages such as D&C 93:12–14. See also condescension; preexistence Christology.
kērygma (Greek, “proclamation”): The basic apostolic testimony that God sent his Son, who went about doing good, suffered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and will return again in glory (e.g., Acts 10:34–43).
kyrios (Greek, “lord, master”; KJV, “Lord”): Meaning everything from “sir” to “master,” the Greek term kyrios was also used for the Hebrew `adōnay, or “my Lord.” This, in turn, was the standard respectful substitution for the divine name YHWH. See divine identity Christology; YHWH.
Logos hymn: Possibly antedating the rest of the Gospel of John, this poetic prologue (John 1:1–18 with prose interruptions about the Baptist) presents preexistent, divine identity, and incarnation Christologies with Christ as the Divine Word that becomes Flesh.
low Christology: Belief regarding the nature of Jesus Christ that begins with or emphasizes his humanity. Like adoptionism, it can focus its understanding of Jesus’s position as Son of God as a position that was achieved or declared. Low Christologies tend to stress Jesus’s humanity over his divinity.
Marcionites: A group named for its founder, Marcion of Sinope (born c. AD 100), a wealthy and influential Christian who was eventually excommunicated from the Roman Church for promoting ideas considered heretical. Marcion affirmed that the creator God of the Old Testament was evil and vengeful and that Jesus came to save us from that God of wrath. Since the creator God was evil, creation was evil. Therefore, Marcion reasoned, Jesus’s body was not made of the evil material stuff of this world, but his body was divine. See also docetic Christology.
narrative Christology: This approach seeks to understand the person and work of Jesus by looking at what Jesus says and does in the context of the narrative and the actions of others. Arguing that Jesus can be grasped only within the narrative, proponents carefully study plot, narrative structure, actions, and dialogues to see what they reveal about Jesus’s identity, character, and purpose.
New Translation (or Joseph Smith Translation): The prophet’s inspired revision, expansion, and commentary of much of the Bible.
Philippians Christ hymn: An early poem or liturgical fragment preserved in Philippians 2:6–11 that confesses Jesus Christ’s kenosis or condescension and his subsequent exaltation.
possessionist or separationist Christology: The belief that the human Jesus was “possessed” by the divine Christ for a certain time during his life, typically beginning at his baptism. This divine being then abandoned Jesus prior to his death so that he could die (see Mark 15:34 or Matthew 27:46). First John 2:22 appears to specifically refute this Christology, and it was declared heretical by proto-Orthodox Christians.
preexistence Christology: Belief about the nature of Christ that focuses on his premortality or existence and activity before his birth as the Babe of Bethlehem. For Latter-day Saints, an understanding that the premortal Jesus Christ was the Firstborn of the Father bearing the divine title Jehovah is an important tenet of the Restoration. See incarnation Christology; Wisdom Christology.
proto-Orthodox: Term used by scholars to identify those second and third-century Christians who became the forerunners of the Orthodox Christianity established in the fourth century and beyond. Its positions were strongly argued by figures such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, and Tertullian of Carthage. Although the term can be helpful in distinguishing broad trends in the early history of Christianity, some proto-Orthodox Christians shared more in common with contemporary “heretics” than with the later Orthodox Christians who claimed them as their own. Proto-Orthodox Christians affirmed a divine incarnation Christology as a way of understanding that Jesus was both fully human and divine.
prokopē (Greek, “advancement, progression”): Understanding Jesus’s development or progression, usually in mortality. Restoration scripture confirms that in mortality Jesus indeed “received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace” (see D&C 93:12–14).
royal Christology: The Davidic covenant (see 2 Samuel 7:12–16) had promised that there would always be a descendant of the house of David to reign in Israel. With the lapse of the Davidic dynasty in Zedekiah’s time, the hope that a descendant of the royal house would arise to be the anointed king who would restore Israel fueled much intertestamental and New Testament messianic expectation. To this end, the Synoptic Gospels, especially Matthew, often used the title “Son of David” to identify Jesus as the fulfiller or this Davidic hope.
resurrection Christology: Understanding that Jesus became God’s Son or Chosen Servant most fully through the resurrection (e.g., Romans 1:4). Without disputing that Jesus was already God’s Son in premortality and became his Only Begotten at his conception and birth, Latter-day Saints can see statements such as Jesus’s revision of Matthew 5:48 in 3 Nephi 12:48 (adding “ye should be perfect as I, or your Father who is in perfect”; emphasis added) as an indication that he became even more like his Father through the resurrection.
sacrificial Christology: Focusing on the salvific work of Jesus, this approach understands Jesus’s identity in terms of his fitness as the sinless, eternal Son of God to be a sacrifice and his willingness to offer himself to reconcile man to God. See atonement or redemption Christology.
second coming (or parousia) Christology: Belief about the nature and role of Christ that focuses upon his return as Judge of all the Earth and on the restoration of Israel and the world as a whole to a millennial state of peace. The hope for this is represented in the prayers for Christ to come quickly in passages such as 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20. See also judgment Christology.
Son of Man: This title appears eighty-five times in the Gospels, almost always in the mouth of Jesus as the most common title for himself, and four other times later in the New Testament (Acts 7:56; Hebrews 2:6 [quoting Psalms 8:4]; and Revelation 1:13; 14:14). Latter-day Saints, because of the insights of Restoration scripture (Moses 6:57; see D&C 78:20; 95:17), tend to interpret this title as a way of referencing Jesus as the Son of God, who himself is known as “Man of Holiness.” In the Old Testament, however, it most commonly was used to refer to a mortal being (e.g., Psalm 8:4; Isaiah 51:12; and Ezekiel passim). The book of Daniel introduced the term in reference to an eschatological figure who would come with power and glory (Daniel 7:13; 8:17), and this was the use that became prevalent in the intertestamental period. While this eschatological application may have been how people at the time of Jesus would likely have understood the term, all three uses may pertain in the Gospels according to context. Accordingly, some passages emphasize the mortality of Jesus, as in the passion predictions; others clearly refer to his second coming; and others view this term as a sign of his divine authority to teach and act.
Valentinians: This group was named after its founder, Valentinus. Born in Egypt in the early-second century AD and educated in Alexandria, Valentinus became a popular Christian theologian in Rome (c. AD 130–160). For Valentinus, the material world was an error, created by a lesser deity who turned from God. Whatever this world or humanity lacks, however, is made up for by God through his Word, Jesus Christ, whose body was more divine than human. Jesus’s more patent divinity revealed the divinity that exists within all humans. Later proto-Orthodox Christians declared Valentinus a heretic and labeled him docetic. See docetic Christology.
Wisdom Christology: Borrowing from the late Jewish concept that wisdom (Hebrew, ḥokmāh) was an attribute of God and an agent in the creative process, as seen in Proverbs 8, Christians began to speak of Jesus in similar language, a move that allowed them to maintain a monotheistic position while also speaking of two divine beings.
YHWH (Hebrew, “The one who exists, causes to be”; KJV, “Jehovah”): The Tetragrammaton, or four-letter, Hebrew name of God. Deriving from the verb “to be,” it includes the meanings “the one who was, is, and will be” with the idea of “the one who causes to be.” Because it was unvoweled in surviving texts, its original pronunciation is unknown, though it is commonly rendered as Yahweh. Too sacred to pronounce in normal circumstances, ancient Israelites and modern Jews usually substituted the term `adōnay, or “my Lord,” which the King James translators rendered in small caps as Lord. For today’s Latter-day Saints, the Lord in the Old Testament generally refers to the premortal Jesus Christ.